Friday, April 4, 2008

The Newest Oldest Recording

This beautiful archaic device is a PHONAUTOGRAPH. Invented in 1857 by Frenchman Leon Scott deMartinville, a printer and writer, it was created to show how sound waves looked: possibly as as an "oral shorthand". The idea being that one could LOOK at the squiggly lines and tell what had been said (!).

The original design (1857) used a barrel-shaped wood-and-plaster horn (the auricle) and scratched the sound waves into a lampblacked glass cylinder. A later design (1859) changed the horn to a more tapered metal horn, and transferred the scratches to a blackened piece of paper wrapped around a cylinder. Notice how there is even decorative scrollwork shown on the original diagram of the machine!

SO - my point being, they've just discovered phonautograms from 1860 that are able to be "played" and are recognizable - predating the other "earliest" recordings (from 1888)! There are a few other, older phonautograms, but they only sound like squawks and warbles...nothing recognizable.

Here is a phonautogram, showing the white scratch in the lampblack (soot) on paper. The sort of sad thing about the phonautograph is that is was NOT for reproducing sound, just for creating a representation of sound on paper. The phonautograms that were recently discovered had to be digitally scanned and "played" in a virtual environment. Leon Scott died in 1879, penniless and for the most part, forgotten. At least Thomas Edison knew that people would want to HEAR their recordings of sounds, and not just LOOK at them! What the heck would people ever use a GRAPHICAL REPRESENTATION of sound for, anyway?!?

Listen to the earliest known recorded sound that we can recognize HERE.

"Au clair de la lune, Pierrot répondit" - it has an otherworldly, sort of ethereal quality to it...and what more would one expect from sound salvaged from SMOKE?!? Time travel, indeed...